A Bountiful Harvest

Local farms and orchards report a successful summer season with big, healthy crops

By Molly Priddy
Cherry harvest at Bigfork Orchards. Beacon file photo

A wet spring and early summer coupled with months of dry heat have led to a particularly successful harvest season in the Flathead Valley, from the wheat growing on the valley floor to the cherries hanging on trees in Yellow Bay.

“All the crops are coming in slightly above average,” said Andy Lybeck, agronomy department manager for CHS Kalispell said. “Winter wheat seems to be an above-average crop for the year.”

There was some consternation earlier in the growing season about the wheat, because all of the precipitation in April made it necessary to plant the wheat a bit later than usual. But Lybeck said the dryness that followed in June and July helped out.

“It was an early challenge,” he said.

Even the valley’s pulse crops had a solid season, coming off a slow year in Montana in 2017, Lybeck said.

“In some instances, some of our yellow peas are above average,” he said.

Non-irrigated fields harvested closer to average than previous years, and reports of the hay crop hadn’t yet come in.

Along Flathead Lake, cherry orchards served up and shipped out a bumper crop of the sweet berries, according to Bruce Johnson with the Flathead Lake Cherry Growers.

“The fruit was very good quality,” Johnson said. “It was big and there wasn’t too much cull.”

Johnson said the FLCG cooperative took in 2.2 million pounds of cherries this year over about three weeks of harvesting in late July and early August. Earlier in the season, farmers said they were growing a beautiful crop, but it wasn’t as bountiful as the previous year.

However, thanks to some new member orchards and some younger orchards coming into maturity, Johnson said the crop managed to provide big, top-notch fruit and weighed more than last year.

Orchards experienced little to no water damage, he said, though the cooperative did hover a helicopter over the trees to remove rainwater from the fruit at least once this summer.

Across the state, farmers are reporting successful harvests as well. On the eastside, sugarbeet production is forecast to come in at 1.47 million tons, according to the Sept. 1 agricultural yield survey from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Lentil production in 2018 is expected to come in about 12 percent higher than last year, at about 4.9 million hundredweight, while dry edible pea production is down one-half percent from last year. However, Austrian winter pea production is up 188 percent from last year.

In Lake County, bear damage to some cornfields is of concern, according to the crop progress report issued by the USDA. Sanders County reported last week that the wheat harvest is happening several weeks later than usual, and other counties are preparing to plant their winter wheat.

In the United States, sugarbeet production is up 2 percent from last year, while lentil production increased by 17 percent compared to a year ago. Soybean production is at a record high of 4.69 billion bushels. Corn production covers 81.8 million acres and is forecasted to yield 14.8 billion bushels, which would be the second highest production on record for the country.